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Non-Review Review: The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch is a sweet and sincere love letter to a certain kind of journalistic endeavour, and to the creative process beyond that. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly disjointed and uneven.

To be fair, these structural problems come with the format. Wes Anderson has constructed his latest film as an anthology, one loosely designed to mirror the flow of a magazine like The New Yorker. The film is comprised of an opening obituary, a travellogue, and three short stories, all designed to emulate the structure of reading a classic journalistic magazine. It’s an interesting and ambitious approach to structuring a movie, one not without challenges and one that allows Anderson the opportunity to lean into his already heightened sensibility.

That is a lot of Wes Anderson.

However, as with many anthology films, The French Dispatch suffers from an unevenness in terms of pacing. As one might expect from an anthology directed by a filmmaker as distinctive as Anderson, The French Dispatch does maintain a consistent tone across its various elements, but it also suffers from stopping and starting five times over. It doesn’t help that each of the three stories flows in much the same way, playing on many of the same tropes of Anderson’s storytelling, starting with Anderson’s signature arch detachment and inevitably puncturing it with small glimpses of humanity.

The appeal of a magazine like the fictional French Dispatch is a diversity of voices and perspectives. The film positions itself as a celebration of the individual journalists relating their stories to the audience, finding their own ways into these narratives and sharing something over themselves with the world. However, while the film does afford some shading of the characters themselves in the framing sections and within the narrative, the stories themselves all feel like they are cut from the same clothe. They are even similar in stylistic terms, mostly shot in black-and-white Academy ratio, occasionally breaking that for dramatic effect.

Stu(dent)ing resentment…

To be fair, this isn’t a fatal problem. Anderson remains a director with a strong aesthetic and keen sense of humour. His worlds are elaborately constructed, both rich and textured. For all that Anderson’s rigid formalism can seem twee or arch, his films are often possessed of a real heart, one that is all the more effective for sneaking up on the audience through these otherwise carrefully composed surroundings and often caricatured characters. The French Dispatch is no different. It is a film with charm to spare, and with a genuine heart beneath it.

Still, for all that The French Dispatch is a celebration of artistic freedom and discovery, and a passionate argument for an editorial hand the encourages distinct voices and approaches over one that imposes a consistent style, by the time the third story is finished, it feels too much the work of a singular voice working a familiar framework.

The Wright stuff.

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My 12 for ’18: Empathy in Any Language & “Isle of Dogs”

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number twelve.

2018 has been a long year, but one that moves at a whirlwind pace.

It’s a bit of a paradox. Time moves so quickly that it seems impossible to keep up with everything that is unfolding. Stories that would have dominated the news cycle for months are now played out in the space of an afternoon, buried beneath the next big story and the next shocking revelation. However, despite how fast everything is moving, this has a numbing effect. The constant barrage of news and information makes things feel so much slower and longer than they would otherwise. 2018 moved so fast that it was impossible to keep up, but it also seemed to last an eternity.

As a result, seemingly ordinary periods of time can be stretched and distorted. The window between theatrical release and home media roll out has been getting shorter and shorter for most films, occasionally to the consternation of cinema chains. There are only a few scant months between the premiere of a film and its release as digital download or hard copy. Normally, that is not a long or extended period of time. In 2018 terms, it is an eternity. So much can change in that window.

I first saw Isle of Dogs in a crowded cinema during the Audi Dublin International Film Festival. The snow was falling outside. Although I did not realise it from the safety of the cinema, buses were being cancelled. Getting home afterwards would be an oddity, and I would spend the next four days locked in my house, staring at idyllic and unspoiled white snow. At the time, I really loved Isle of Dogs. It stayed with me, haunting and beautiful. The imagery was arresting, the compositions impressive, the simple story at the heart of the film an engaging appeal to empathy in a world increasingly bereft of it.

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78. The Grand Budapest Hotel (#192)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guests Stacy Grouden and Charlene Lydon, and featuring Phil Bagnall, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a glorious ruin on the continent of Europe. A visiting author happens to strike up a conversation with the establishment’s owner, who crafts an epic and heartwarming tale of love, murder and scandal against the backdrop of the chaotic mid-twentieth century.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 192nd best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Isle of Dogs

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

Isle of Dogs is a beautiful piece of work, in every sense of the word.

The obvious point of comparison is The Fantastic Mister Fox, Wes Anderson’s previous stop-motion adventure. Isle of Dogs and The Fantastic Mister Fox are certainly of a piece with one another even beyond the wonderful production design, featuring meditative canines engaged in existential struggles. However, Isle of Dogs represents an extension and deepening of the work that Anderson did with The Fantastic Mister Fox.

Isle of Dogs reflects the more daring formal experimentation that made Grand Budapest Hotel such a treat, trusting the audience to accept and even embrace Anderson’s consciously hyperstylised approach to storytelling. In a strictly logical or rational manner, almost every major creative decision in Isle of Dogs seems to have been made to remind the audience that they are watching something constructed and crafted, the film consciously and artfully heightened so as to remind the audience of the remove that exists between them and the film they are watching.

Although Anderson has come to be known for this conscious and playful aesthetic, it is not his greatest accomplishment as a director. The most wonderful and beautiful thing about Isle of Dogs is that the film is so lovingly and carefully crafted that repeatedly drawing the audience’s attention to the artifice of it renders it no less real and no less moving.

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My 12 for ’14: The Grand Budapest Hotel and faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

I have yet to meet anybody who truly disliked The Grand Budapest Hotel.

I’m sure they exist. In fact, I suspect that a couple might make themselves known in the comments. However, for most of 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel was the safest possible cinema recommendation from “that guy who really thought that Cloud Atlas and The Dark Knight Rises were the best films of their respective years.” Sure, there were people who did not love it, and a few legitimate complaints, but even the most cynical friends, acquaintances and family members warmed to Wes Anderson’s delightfully eccentric European comedy adventure thriller.

thegrandbudapesthotel

There is a lot to like here. Anderson has always had a style that is uniquely his own, but it feels like the film maker has grown dramatically over the last couple of years. The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel are absolutely lovely pieces of cinema that look stunning and are written with just the right balance of knowing irony and sincere affection. It’s never entirely clear how much Anderson buys into the romantic fantasies constructed by his characters, but that is part of the appeal.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a fantastic accomplishment all round.

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Non-Review Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

“His world departed long before he entered it,” one of the narrators from The Grand Budapest Hotel notes of the film’s lead character. “But he maintained an elaborate illusion.” This description is applied to the suave sophisticated concierge Gustav H, played wonderfully by Ralph Fiennes, but it could also apply to director Wes Anderson – a director whose cinematic style is built upon nostalgic nods to a past that may never have actually existed.

Framed as a story within a story within a story, jumping back from the eighties to the sixties to the late thirties, Anderson draws even more attention to his artifice than usual. Wrapping a framing story around a framing story seems almost cheeky, as Anderson brings the audience incrementally into the past – suggesting that one needs to wade in rather than diving. The story of a romantic living in a cynical era, The Grand Budapest Hotel seems – despite its scale and scope – one of Anderson’s more intimate efforts.

It is also among his very best.

Vault out to see it...

Vault out to see it…

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My 12 for ’12: Moonrise Kingdom & The Virtues of Eternal Childhood

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #8

I’ll freely confess that I am not a huge Wes Anderson fan. I admire the fact that he has managed to maintain a distinct and consistent aesthetic, one quite different from that found elsewhere, but I’m not necessarily fond of his entire body of work. I harbour a fondness for Rushmore, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and – now – Moonrise Kingdom. They are, in theory at least, three very different films – one of them is a stop-motion animated adaptation of a classic Roald Dahl story, for instance. However, the linking theme among (what I perceive to be) Anderson’s strongest work is a romantic sense of childhood. Anderson’s characters are often children, no matter their actual age or how far they’ve travelled, and I think that Anderson’s work is at its very best when it embraces that sense of perpetual childhood.moonrisekingdom

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Non-Review Review: Rushmore

I am quite fond of Rushmore. It’s strange, because I found that Anderson’s schtick wore off on many of his following films – The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited. I suspect my affection for the film is rooted in the fact that it was the first Wes Anderson film I ever saw, and so his quirks and style were refreshing to me. There is, after all, nobody who writes movie dialogue and directs scenes quite like Wes Anderson. In a way, he feels a bit like Quentin Tarantino, an autuer who seems to sign almost every frame of his work. I think, perhaps, that I am so partial to Rushmore because Anderson’s plot devices and his writing seem much better suited to it than to many of the films that followed. After all, it’s a lot easier to accept a film based around a character who acts like an emotionally immature teenager when that character is an emotionally immature teenager.

It all goes to the Max…

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Non-Review Review: Moonrise Kingdom

I’ve always felt that Wes Anderson sees the world through the eyes of child. Events take on a surreal larger-than-life significance, characters are exaggerated, emotional interactions are somewhat simplistic, yet peppered with nuance and hidden depth. To be entirely honest, I’ve found this has a tendency to make Anderson’s adult characters difficult to relate to and his movies difficult to engage with. That’s why I think The Fantastic Mr. Fox worked so well, because it was a childish view of an adult work through the prism of a children’s story.

That’s also why, I think, Moonrise Kingdom works just as well as Anderson’s quirky foray into the world of stop motion animation. While many of Anderson’s films are tragedies about overgrown children living in the bodies of adults, Moonrise Kingdom is more keenly focused on how adults and children interact with one another – giving the movie a depth to complement Anderson’s unique stylistic vision, and heart to go with its cynical wit.

“Well, we know where we’re going…”

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Win! Moonrise Kingdom T-Shirts!

The lovely folks over at Universal Pictures Ireland have give us ten T-shirts to give away from the latest Wes Anderson release, Moonrise Kingdom. It premiered at Cannes last week, and it opens here on Friday. To be in with a chance to win, answer the question below.

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